A good bag is like a good friend. The best ones are found when you're young and kept for a lifetime.
I had the opportunity to connect with Rachael Riedinger over sustainability and her mission. She was kind enough to answer some questions and I have shared them below.
For more info or to peruse the beautiful offerings from Neva Opet, go here.
What inspired you to start Neva Opet?
After college, I had a pretty unfulfilling job so I started creating things as a way to help clear my
mind. After searching for years for a handbag that was just right-- the “Holy Grail” of bags: not too small, not too big, and sans logos--I thought why not make exactly what I want to carry. Like they say, the best ideas are born out of necessity.
I picked up some leather at a local craft store just to give it a go and fell in love with the art of leatherworking immediately. Unlike my years of sewing with fabric, I liked the permanence of leather, once you pierce leather there is no going back. That hole cannot be repaired. It was scary but challenging, and I was hooked. I threw myself into all things leather: I read books, learned the parts of the hide, the process of tanning, everything. As I delved deeper into my new hobby, I knew I needed to upgrade to an industrial sewing machine. From there, everything changed. I could sew through any leather and I quickly started churning out bags and selling around town and online. To my total surprise, my side hustle was quickly turning into a full-time business.
What is your background?
I’ve been sewing since the age of 14. I taught myself when I desperately needed to sew all my cool band patches on my denim jacket! I learned to create clothing from taking apart thrift store finds and figuring out how to pattern a skirt or a pair of pants. I knew from a young age I wanted to become a designer. However, through high school and college I was urged to pursue a career path that would be more secure. I graduated from college with a degree in Art History and considered continuing my education to become an Egyptologist. After a few unfulfilling jobs after college, I went back to creating things as an outlet. (Side note: this is where the ‘Opet’ comes from. An ancient Egyptian festival of regeneration for the kings and gods. A mashup of my great grandmother’s name, Neva, and my background and love for art history. I wanted a brand name to be totally unique to me.)
After many years in retail and visual management, I learned invaluable tools to assist my journey into entrepreneurship. Plus, I am fortunate enough to have spent my childhood watching my strong and independent single mom grow and maintain her own real estate business over the course of 20 years. At the risk of being too cliche, I really do believe each job or personal experience in my life (good and bad) has led me to where I am at today.
What is your mission?
The mission of Neva Opet is to responsibly create well designed handcrafted handbags and accessories that exemplifies the modern, ethical fashion minded woman. In a world of disposable fashion, Neva Opet is creating handmade products that last a lifetime and beyond trends.
I never make a bag that I would not carry myself. I think that various occasions call for a different style and size. I have carried the Ana bucket bag almost everyday for two years. It has been the perfect mid- sized, day bag that goes with everything. I also carry the Nico backpack to the studio with me everyday. I typically will throw my laptop, ipad, lunch and water bottle in it. If I go out at night, I tend to exclusively wear the new Millie Fanny. I can go hands free, keep my belongings close to me and not have to search for those dreaded hooks that may (or may not be) underneath a bar.
I think the Niki Tote and the Nico Backpack are perfect work, school, or even weekender bags. Large enough to carry your laptop, file folders, gym clothes, even smaller bags like the Carolee Clutch for a quick downsize for a night out. I try to design bags and accessories for various occasions. If you were to go through one of my daily bags, it would be like a Russian nesting doll reveal of Neva Opet products. My Nico backpack holds my ipad (along with the ipad sleeve prototype...coming soon), the Helen pouch with the leather cardholder inside, the Jenny pouch which perfectly houses my ahem, feminine products, the leather triangle pouch to keep my ear buds from getting lost or tangled AND the Millie Fanny, just in case I need to run out to an event straight from the studio. All that in one backpack with room to spare. I’ve been known to throw in a power drill on top of that. A girl can never be too prepared for the day!
If you can say one thing to people purchasing bags made in China, what would it be?
I think education is key. I always advise that people watch the documentary ‘The True Cost’ as a starting point. Excessive consuming and buying fast fashion can be easy, typically with the low prices and lack of open and transparent business practices from so many companies. It is easy to have that out of sight, out of mind mentality but with the maker scene growing, it is easy and more accessible to start buying fewer but better products that we can feel proud to wear. I love being part of a growing community of like minded women during a time when transparency and ethical purchasing has become increasingly important in our society. If we all work together and support one another, I think we can help to make big changes in our collective consuming practices!
What is your idea of a perfect Sunday?
It is so funny to me that this was the toughest question! I typically work or do something business related every day of the week, because I love what I do! I think the perfect Sunday off would involve spending time catching up with friends, exploring the city or even a new city, trying a new restaurant and sipping on some fancy cocktails. Oh, and maybe someone else picks up the tab.... you said perfect haha!
Who inspires your work?
I am always guided by the work of contemporary female artists. I name each bag after a female artist that has made a particular impression on me like Eva Hesse, Louise Bourgeoise, and Carolee Schneemann.